SAN JOSE -- The growth of hockey in San Jose during the past quarter century has occurred as much on the blacktops across the city as it has on the region's ice surfaces.
The San Jose Sharks' arrival in 1991 spawned a generation of kids who wanted to try out a sport that was brand-new to them. With the city's temperate climate, there was no natural ice upon which to experiment with hockey. So the kids improvised, using basketball courts, tennis courts and any other flat, paved surface they could find to chase a new dream.
Raul Peralez was 11 at the time the Sharks began play in the NHL. He joked about lacing up roller skates and skating into tetherball poles while chasing after the puck with his friends when they tried hockey for the first time.
Peralez is now a city councilman here and he was beaming with pride standing on the new outdoor street hockey rink in Roosevelt Park, the legacy project from the NHL and the Sharks for the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star festivities.
"Long after All-Star Game weekend has come and gone, this rink will be here as a testament to the community," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the project Friday.
Commissioner Bettman said the rink serves the unique needs of San Jose and its fans.
"The barrier to entry to our sport, particularly in a warm-weather climate, is the number of rinks," Commissioner Bettman said. "While the Sharks have been an important part in making sure there have been a number of community rinks, the fact of the matter is having a deck-hockey facility is an easy access point. The combination with Learn to Play programs will give young people a chance to experience the game. This is, again, a way for all of us to give back to the community."
The NHL, San Jose Sharks Foundation and SAP collectively donated $500,000 for upgrades to the outdoor rink, which opened in 1995. Among the upgrades are a new all-weather surface, bleachers, dasher boards and chain-link fencing. Future improvements planned include a water-drainage system and better lighting to be able to play at night.
New hockey equipment, including sticks, goalie equipment and nets, was donated by Franklin Sports, the official street hockey partner of the NHL.
This year, Roosevelt Park will host a series of free youth hockey street tournaments for kids ages 6-18 and Learn to Play hockey clinics. The outdoor rink will also be available for youth and adult pickup hockey.
Sharks president John Tortora said the dedication of the rink was the perfect way to kick off a weekend full of high-profile events featuring the most-recognizable players in the game, including the three Sharks all-stars -- forward Joe Pavelski and defensemen Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson -- who were all at the rink's dedication.
"We're here to deliver experiences and this is a subset of all that," said Tortora, who has been with the Sharks for eight years. "To be able to create a rink for the community right here is downtown San Jose where they can experience the game of hockey, where they don't have to go through the cost of learning how to skate, is amazing. That allows them to become fans. It gives them an opportunity to exercise. It's a legacy gift that is going to be here for a long time."
The legacy project also involves hockey programming at the facility in the hopes of introducing the game to new generations of fans.
The legacy initiative is an ongoing philanthropic endeavor when the NHL and its clubs support community organizations in the host city of an NHL tent-pole event.
Since 2003, the NHL, its clubs and partners have donated more than $3.5 million to communities across North America. Legacy projects have aided thousands of hospital patients in recovery, helped at-risk youth and families gain better access to educational and vocational training, and provided greater access to people of all ages to learn and play hockey.
"For more than 15 years the NHL has partnered with its member clubs to make meaningful contributions that help build vibrant communities that contribute to growing our sport," said Kim Davis, NHL executive vice president, social impact, growth initiatives & legislative affairs. "We see the positive impact playing hockey has on people of all ages, fostering a greater sense of teamwork, dedication, and perseverance -- hockey's core values. This is another example of multiple groups working together, 'doing good and doing well,' and the NHL is proud to be part of this team."